Comprehending the complexities of how planning your estate, will, or trust can benefit you and your family down the line can be challenging; Mr. Ellis understands that. Therefore, he will take the time to sit down with you and explain everything so that you are fully aware of your choices and how they pertain to your particular situation. If you feel that Mr. Ellis may be of assistance to you, please contact us at 727-822-3929 if your case pertains to any of the areas of practice below.
Areas of Practice:
For more information about each specific area, click on our frequently asked questions.
Q: Why should one have a Will?
A: Everyone over 18 should have a Will – to provide how assets should be distributed at death and to designate a personal representative (executor) responsible for settling the estate. Otherwise, a decedent’s assets are distributed in accordance with The Florida Intestate Statute – to the decedent’s next of kin, as specified in the Statute. This could mean that part of the assets would go to a surviving spouse and part to children or other heirs -- even minor children or grandchildren, and thus involve guardianships.
Q: If I have a Living Trust or if all of my assets are registered jointly or ITF or TOD to designated beneficiaries, do I still need a Will?
A: Yes. The joint owner of designated beneficiaries may predecease, or die with you in a common accident. Also, you may have assets or causes of action that are individually owned at death – such as recent inheritances or acquisitions, causes of action for medical malpractice, auto accidents, etc.
Q: Are Wills Expensive?
A. Simple Wills – leaving assets to adult persons outright (i.e. not tied up in testamentary trusts for minors, or others, and not involving other complications), usually cost as little as $175.00 in Pinellas County. Wills can be much more expensive in other counties or states. The attorney will quote a fee prior to preparing legal documents.
Q: Can probate be avoided?
A. Careful estate planning can generally eliminate, or greatly lessen the need for probate. This can be done by use of joint and/or TOD (transfer on death) accounts, life estate deeds, and/or living trusts (where necessary or warranted to avoid probate and/or estate taxes). The attorney can explain all of this in the initial conference.
Q: Do I need to have a Durable Power of Attorney and/or Healthcare Surrogate Documents?
A. These documents are highly recommended and frequently can be combined into one inexpensive document. This can totally eliminate the need for an expensive guardianship if you become incapacitated as the result of an accident or for medical reasons (i.e. stroke, heart attack, dementia, etc.) The document can name a primary and name alternate agents – or designate more than one person to serve as primary or alternate agents.
Q: All of my assets, except some personal property and my Florida homestead, are registered jointly, or TOD, or are in my Living Trust. Will probate be required to pass title to the beneficiaries named in my Will?
A. If the personal property items have a value of less than $75,000, and if the Will devises the homestead to a spouse or other relatives, then a short form of probate (called Summary Administration) can be used to pass title to the “exempt” homestead to the relatives and other personal property items to beneficiaries specified in the Will. This process can be done in a matter of weeks, or less, does not require full probate or appointment of a personal representative (executor), and usually costs about $2,000 (including court costs and attorney’s fees) if title to real estate is involved. Summary Administration can cost as little as $500 - $600 in attorney fees (plus court costs) if title to real property is not involved.
Q: What does a full probate proceeding cost?
A. (a) The statutory “presumed reasonable” fee for the “ordinary services” of the personal representative (executor) is 3% of probate assets and income. A lesser percentage can be levied for probate estates having a value of over one million dollars. Family member's personal representatives frequently waive their fee.
(b) The statutory “presumed reasonable” fee for “ordinary services” rendered by the attorney who represents the personal representative and usually handles most of the estate settlement procedures, is the same 3%. Most attorneys have a minimum fee – usually based on an hourly rate.
The fees paid to the personal representative and to the attorney are subject to modification by the court, or by agreement amongst the interested parties, and can be reduced or adjusted upwards – to take into account “extraordinary” services required re: dispute settlements, litigation, sale of real property, estate tax proceedings, etc. Again, the total fee paid to the attorney should be based upon a reasonable hourly rate.
Q: How are Living Trusts administered and distributed after the death of the Grantor?
A. A Successor Trustee must be qualified and must perform most of the duties of an executor, but without probate court monitoring. Duties include filing Notice of Trust, marshalling and administering all Trust assets, furnishing copies of the Trust and Amendments to all beneficiaries, furnishing Inventories and Accountings to the trust beneficiaries, obtaining tax Identification Number (EIN), determining and paying creditors, filing and settling final income tax returns (personal and fiduciary), furnishing final accounting and plan of distribution to all interested parties, and distributing and transferring title to trust assets to the proper beneficiaries – after paying final expenses and trustee’s and attorney’s fees. Fees will vary depending on the size and complexity of the trust. In some instances, probate proceedings (or summary administration) are required to transfer individually owned assets to the trust and/or to cut off creditors and will or trust contests, and to settle disputed claims.